Author : Duncan Shields , Featured Writer

The universal translator she wore around her neck always told me how she felt. When she sighed a series of clicks into my hair as my hands brushed the blue skin in between her 2nd and 3rd sets of arms, it was the translator that said, “Oh, I like that.”

It spoke in a voice like a nearly tuned-in radio. I didn’t think of it as her voice. We could have complicated conversations and everything but the translator was just doing it’s best to give me the closest approximation of what she meant. It was like having a third person in the room. It was always once removed. It was a minor annoyance.

When I licked the sponge holes on the base of her anterior skull plate, it was the translator hanging on her chest that said, “Stop that tickles and you know it.”

We had a year and a half of nice memories. Good conversations. Great sex. Fun times.

I was leaving.

The journey was only a few years but it was at near light and her race had a shorter life span that humans. This was the last time we’d see each other and we knew it. I smiled nervously like things were going to be fine while blinking back tears. She clicked and cooed while occasionally puffing out the strawberry scents I’d taught her how to make over the course of one hilarious weekend. It was as close as her kind could ever come to smiling. They covered up the acrid smell of grief that she almost successfully repressed.

This was the moment. We were in the lobby of the spaceport and we were staring at each other. I needed to go ahead past the security screens by myself. I held onto the olive-smooth fingers of her tophands and looked deep into her faceted eyes. She stared back up at me.

“Well.” I said. “I guess this is goodbye.”

She shuddered. Her mandibles and orecase fluttered and clicked. Her translator kicked in. “Peter, I will alw-” it said.

With speed and strength I’d never seen her display she snatched the translator off of her chest, snapped the cord, spun on her talons and threw it against the tiled wall with all her strength. It shattered like a kid’s toy.

She turned back and stared up at me again. She grabbed my fingers in her tophands. She was staring intently up at me. Her wing stumps fluttered. It was the same as a human taking a deep breath.

Her mandibles clicked faster and faster. They made a sound like someone humming through a piece of paper wrapped around a comb. They made a sound like someone playing a saw with a violin bow. They made a sound like wood being pushed slowly through a jigsaw. It reminded me of a field of crickets on a summer’s day back on earth when I was a kid. Her mouth parts blurred with the humming.

“Hi hwill alwuzz love you.” the humming said. The words were there, clear as day. The humming stopped and she slumped forward, exhausted.

She turned and walked away. I had never heard of a member of her race-caste even attempting to mimic human speech.

She’d let me hear her true voice as a parting gift.

I will never forget it.

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